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Small park on Tampa’s Bayshore part of big fight over synagogue high-rise

The developer hoping to build a tall residence on synagogue property offers to fix up nearby Fred Ball Park. Park caretakers aren’t impressed.
 
Fred Ball Park on Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. A developer has proposed paying $150,000 for fixes to the park as part of a deal to build a high-rise at the nearby Congregation Rodeph Sholom site.
Fred Ball Park on Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. A developer has proposed paying $150,000 for fixes to the park as part of a deal to build a high-rise at the nearby Congregation Rodeph Sholom site. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 6

An unusual proposal to build a high-rise on a synagogue’s waterfront property just got another player in the mix: a small, historic park on Tampa’s scenic Bayshore Boulevard.

Last year, after a contentious hearing, Congregation Rodeph Sholom’s plan to sell roughly half its 2.12-acre property to Miami-based developer The Related Group and coexist with a tower there got a unanimous no from the Tampa City Council.

Council members heard objections from neighbors and the Tampa Garden Club next door who said the project was too big, didn’t fit the neighborhood and would hurt the garden club’s brisk wedding business. Others expressed concerns about waivers the developer sought that would allow, among other things, the removal of oak trees.

Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. IVY CEBALLO | Times (2022)
Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. IVY CEBALLO | Times (2022) [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Now Related and Rodeph Sholom are headed back before the City Council on Thursday with a revised plan: 26 floors instead of 29, more green space and no waiver requests. The developer is also offering neighborhood investment, including resurfacing two nearby roads, fixing sidewalks, adding a crosswalk — and ponying up $150,000 in fixes for nearby Fred Ball Park.

The volunteer group that has for decades taken care of the shady stretch of park — which includes the historic Palma Ceia Spring — expressed serious reservations about the developer’s plans in a memo to council members last week.

“There has been no communication, no coordination and in our opinion, their plans lack any understanding of local input or history,” Traci Riley, civic chairperson of the Rose Circle group, said in the memo. Also, she said, Related’s proposal “may seriously conflict” with Rose Circle’s plans, including a $6,000 volunteer planting Feb. 16. and ongoing conversations with a company that restored another city spring.

Jake Cremer, attorney for Related, said there’s no conflict.

“We had two community meetings and we were constantly hearing about the need to make improvements at Fred Ball Park,” Cremer said. “It needs some work. It needs some love.” Nothing Related is proposing would interfere with Rose Circle’s plans, he said: “From what I understand, it’s going to be a complementary effort.”

Riley said she only learned of the park plans when someone called her from a community meeting and she arrived to see renderings “completely opposite of what the plans have been to do with the city.”

“I was surprised and taken aback,” she said.

Cremer said Related has a history of working with Tampa officials — for example, helping to build a piece of the west side of the Riverwalk as part of a project there.

As part of its park proposal, Related would replace and extend the walkway through the park with brick pavers and help pursue grant funding if needed, he said.

Cremer said they have heard that previous developers’ commitments to Fred Ball Park went unfulfilled, so Related is putting its commitments in writing “so that everyone is clear exactly what is proposed.” He called it “ironic” that a developer “stepping up to the plate” would be “attacked.”

“Fred Ball Park is absolutely an area of common ground,” he said.

Todd Pressman, a zoning consultant representing the Tampa Garden Club, called the developer’s plans for Fred Ball “a sweetener, an enticement” contingent on support for their project. He has said the high-rise proposal is too big — “9 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag.”

At least 1,300 people have signed an online petition opposing the project, according to Paula Perry, a South Tampa resident and vice president of the federation of the Tampa Garden Club.

Representatives of the synagogue say they have been regularly approached about selling the prime property on the winding waterfront road that runs through South Tampa. Allowing a developer to buy half the property would make them money for future upkeep and could prevent them from one day having to sell their land outright and move away, they said.

The matter goes to the City Council at 5 p.m. Thursday. The previous hearing drew a packed house.

“It’s going to be a late night,” Cremer said.